• Simplifying the future

    by  • March 19, 2009 • The Global Picture • 0 Comments

    Recently – and I blame twitter for this ;-) – I’ve had really bad information overload. This should not be that much of a surprise. Six and a half billion people, something over a billion of them online, many of them very, very smart with whole lifetimes of thinking and research behind them: there is no reasonable way to form anything resembling complete coverage of what’s going on, even if you pick only the very best stuff.

    Twitter was a sharp reminder of that.

    Any attempt to map the future will fail, but I think that there are some deep shifts – megatrends, if you will – which we can say are parts of nearly all probable scenarios.

    1> Solar energy is going to be very, very cheap. (see)

    2> Industrialized economies will not be concentrated in America and Europe, and industrial wealth will move to poorer areas of the world. (this is already true)

    3> Post-industrial and pre-industrial wealth will be distributed globally based on cultural and agricultural productivity. (this is already true for pre-industrial, becoming true for post-industrial)

    4> The push towards a one-world approach to managing natural resources will produce clamor for a plausible one world government. (this is already true, though marginal)

    Now let’s actually track these trends forwards: climate change is largely taken out by solar energy displacing coal first, and then oil. Agriculturalists all over the world get cheap access to solar electricity for farm machines, communications and domestic comforts. Wealth inequalities tend to even out in the face of industry moving around the planet. Biodiversity loss and deforestation take up a lot of the slack from global warming as The Big Threat. Already this is a very different world.

    The “trimtab” in this situation is where we look at how ICT arrives in the developing world. It’s already rolling out very, very fast – nearly 100% cell phone adoption by 2020. The question is, are we going to wind up with two billion people with cell phones but no toilet, or are we going to figure out how to enable people to build their own essential services using information and other resources they organized over the network?

    This is an area where what we do actually has the power to tip the scales one way or the other, in the same way that the Linux development community is tipping the scales globally towards open information ecosystems.

    So this is my simple story about the future. Big trends are converging to make the world more equitable, but there are some critical areas where we can work together to make a big difference in how the future turns out.

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    Vinay Gupta is a consultant on disaster relief and risk management.


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